A few years ago I was in the middle of making a recipe when, due to my normal hastiness of not reading a recipe in full before charging into to it, I realized that I didn’t have the listed vanilla sugar in my pantry. I couldn’t tell you what I was making at the time. And I also couldn’t tell you that I had ever seen vanilla sugar in any of the stores I’d shopped in. But I can tell you that since my first encounter with vanilla sugar as an ingredient, I’ve seen it listed in no less than a dozen other recipes. I can also tell you that shortly after making that first recipe, I tracked this elusive sugar down and bought some. Ugh. It was expensive and I knew I could probably just use a little extra vanilla extract in its place but I felt like there was a reason why these recipes called specifically for vanilla sugar.
Well sure there’s a reason: because vanilla sugar is amazing. And it’s even more amazingly simple to make. I believe I “learned” how to make vanilla sugar from watching Bobby Flay; his emphatic instructions were to scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean out for whatever recipe you were using it for and “don’t throw out the pod!” To make your own vanilla sugar, you’ll put your used bean pod(s) into a jar then cover the pod(s) with regular granulated sugar. Every few days, shake the container to mix up the sugar and spin the pods around through the sugar to release the vanilla flavor and any remaining beans from the pods into the sugar. After a couple of weeks, you’ll open up the jar and get smacked with all the loveliness that is the vanilla bean in sugar form. As you use new vanilla beans, toss the pods into the same container…and as you use the vanilla sugar, add new granulated sugar to the container and continue the process of shaking and spinning.
So now if you’re wondering what you can use your homemade vanilla sugar for, I’ll tell you simply that you can use it in many recipes that call for vanilla extract in place of [or partially substituted for] the granulated sugar. I wouldn’t substitute vanilla sugar for extract, but use the vanilla sugar to enhance the vanilla flavor in the recipe. I use it in all kinds of ice cream, sugar cookies (both decorated and soft versions), pancakes, cakes, and biscotti. It’s handy to have in your pantry, is a luxurious ingredient that costs virtually nothing, and would make for a fantastic addition to holiday gift packages. How can you beat that?
DIY: Vanilla Sugar
source: Smells Like Home, though this isn’t an original idea
To make your own vanilla sugar, be sure to use a glass jar or bowl. Over time, plastic containers will absorb the vanilla flavor and you certainly don’t want to lose any flavor into a plastic container!
What you need:
- 1 or more empty vanilla bean pods
- 3+ cups granulated sugar
- 1 large glass jar that can be sealed – a 1 quart mason jar works great
What you’ll do:
- Place empty vanilla bean pods inside the glass jar.
- Cover pods with 3 cups sugar, leaving about 1/4″ of the pod showing about the top of the sugar. Tightly seal the jar and store in a cool, dark place.
- Once or twice a week, open the jar and spin the pods around the sugar. Close the jar and shake up the sugar and pods.
- Allow the bean pods to release their flavor and beans into the sugar over the course of about 2 weeks before using. The longer the pods sit in the sugar, the better the sugar will be.
- When you have new empty bean pods, snuggle them into the sugar. When you use the vanilla sugar, stir new sugar into the old and on top of the old pods. In a tightly sealed jar, sugar and pods will last upwards of 12 months, possibly longer.